"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Murderer and Father of Lies

In a culture that seems perpetually conflicted over evil--alternately dismissing the very notion as some kind of "medieval" superstition, or becoming unhealthily fascinated with it to the point of obsession--along come two new books about the one whom Scripture variously calls the evil one, the devil, or Satan. The first of these is Miguel De La Torre, Albert Hernandez, The Quest for the Historical Satan (Fortress Press, 2011), 256pp.

About this book, the publisher tells us:
The figure of Satan has for centuries embodied or incarnated absolute evil. Existing alongside more intellectualist interpretations of evil, Satan has figured largely in Christian practices, devotions, popular notions of the afterlife, and fears of retribution in the beyond. Satan remains an influential reality today in many Christian traditions and in popular culture. But how should Satan be understood today?

De La Torre and Hernandez's volume probes the murky origins of the satanic legends and beliefs back to their pre-Christian roots in the Middle East. They unearth the Satan's roots in Egyptian and Babylonian understandings of evil. They also show, however, that the ancient Satan has some characteristics we would hardly recognize, especially his appearance in most ancient cultures and survival in many traditional religions as the "trickster" figure. While a minor tradition in historic Christianity, the authors argue, seeing Satan as trickster is historically accurate and holds real promise for Christian rethinking in "theology, philosophy, and practice of evil" and how it can be dealt with. This is a fascinating story that helps the reader reframe basic elements of our worldview of good and evil.
The second book is  Nienke Vos and Willemien Otten, eds., Demons and the Devil in Ancient and Medieval Christianity (Vigiliae Christianae, Supplements) (Brill, 2011). 

About this book, the publisher tells us:
This collection of essays approaches the role of demons and the devil in ancient and medieval Christianity from a variety of scholarly perspectives: historical, philosophical, and theological as well as philological, liturgical, and theoretical. In the opening article Gerd Theissen presents a wide-ranging overview of the role of the devil, spanning the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and patristic literature. The contributions that follow address texts on the devil, demons, and evil, and are drawn from ancient philosophy, the New Testament, early Christian apologetics, hagiography, and history. Covering primarily the patristic period, the volume also contains articles on medieval sources. The introduction discusses the different angles of approach found in the articles in an effort to shed fresh light on this familiar but also uniquely troubling theme.

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